The fragrant smell of sagebrush drifts through the air, and the towering coniferous trees guard the ground far below from the harsh summer sun around the Chilao Visitor Center and Interpretive Trail, making this a well-deserved stop on a journey along Angeles Crest Highway.
Purportedly, over 100 years ago, bandidos would steal horses from cattle ranchers in the valleys of Los Angeles and dissipate into the San Gabriel Mountains. Many of these Bandidos and other thieves and denizens would utilize the vantage points around what is now Chilao as lookout posts. The most notable of these men was Tiburcio Vasquez, who, after rebranding the stolen horses, would head down the eastern flanks of the range into the desert and sell them to the mining communities that were always in high demand for the animals.
As the story goes, sometimes before his capture in 1874, one of Vasquez’s cohorts was said to have killed a bear with a knife in the surrounding hills. This widely earned him the nickname Chillia, or Hot Stuff. Over the last century of use, the name has evolved into Chilao.
The visitor center educates interested tourists on natural and geological history of the area, and it fortifies hikers for wildlife spotting and plant identification around the short nature trail that sits behind the station. Note that the center’s hours are short: It's only open on the weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so plan accordingly.
One of the better hiking trails in the area finds its trailhead at the visitor’s center. Devil’s Canyon Trail wanders through the middle of a rugged canyon and along a willow-shaded creek. The view from the edge of Devil’s Canyon scare off casual day hikers, and anyone planning on embarking should be reminded that the sharp descent right off the bat will confront all hikers returning at the very end of the day. Any intrepid explorers willing to weather the tough trail will be rewarded with narrow canyon views, many creek crossings, and beautiful cascades.
The nearby Upper Chilao Day Use Picnic Area is an ideal spot to unpack a lunch following a morning tour and hike.